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Legislation introduced to ensure feds pay to rebuild Baltimore bridge

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Lawmakers from Maryland, including the state’s sole Republican representative introduced legislation in Congress to ensure the federal government foots the bill for reconstruction of the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore.

Legislation was introduced in both chambers of Congress on Thursday to allow the federal government to fully fund the replacement of the collapsed bridge. The Baltimore Bridge Response Invests and Delivers Global Economic Relief Act, a bill by acronym known as the Baltimore BRIDGE Relief Act, would amend the “federal cost-share requirement for Federal Highway Administration Emergency Relief Program for Disaster-Damaged Highways and Bridges.”

The emergency relief funding would ensure a 100% cost share with the federal government for the first 270 days following the disaster. Thus far the state has received $60 million.

Sen. Ben Cardin, who introduced the legislation, in the Senate described the collapse as “a human tragedy and economic tragedy – for Maryland and the nation.” He called on his fellow lawmakers to work on healing from the disaster, saying, “a new bridge can be a symbol of hope and resilience.”

The senator also said the federal government is a vital “partner” in the process of rebuilding.

“The federal government is an essential partner in this gargantuan task of reopening the Port of Baltimore shipping channel and replacing the bridge with one built for modern-day commerce and travel needs,” said Cardin.

House Freedom Caucus member Rep. Andy Harris joined his fellow Maryland lawmakers in support for providing funding for the reconstruction, but ultimately doesn’t want taxpayers to be “held responsible for costs.” He said a “negligent, foreign-owned shipping company” should be accountable for paying.

Harris, however, says the legislation is necessary.

“This legislation is a step in the right direction and will provide Maryland with the resources necessary to reopen the channel, rebuild the bridge, and hold any party responsible for reimbursing the federal government if found negligent,” said Harris.

Former Democratic House Majority Leader and Congressman Steny Hoyer says that reopening the Port of Baltimore and rebuilding the bridge “as fast as possible” is in the best “interest of every American.” He added, “To vote against this legislation is to vote against the success of the American economy and the American people.”

The House Freedom Caucus released a statement last week warning against using some of the funds intended for rebuilding efforts on “pork-filled” spending projects. The caucus also said they would not vote on funding until the Biden administration lifts its ban on new sites for liquefied natural gas exports.

It’s difficult to predict if Harris will be able to sway fellow caucus members to support the legislation without making compromises.